One-point Lesson : Cleaning Blots

Lesson #28: Cleaning fresh 'blots' from prints ...

Some of these 'one-point' lessons have touched on how deep to carve the blocks, and I have emphasized my feeling that they should be as shallow as possible (in Lesson #3 for example). One side effect of using shallow blocks though, is that the possibility of getting 'blots' on the paper increases as the carved depth decreases.

In my earlier days of printmaking, whenever one of the sheets picked up a blot from inadvertent contact with a pigment-smeared portion of the carved area, I always tossed it into the discard pile. It seemed to me that there was no way to remove the pigment from the washi; erasing or rubbing just destroyed the surface of the paper.

But one day I learned a method of saving these 'blotched' sheets ... I was watching Keizaburo Matsuzaki print one of the colours on a typical ukiyo-e print. As he flipped the sheet off the block and laid it face up on the pile to his side, both he and I noticed that there was a blot on the paper. I assumed that this particular print would be a write-off, but was surprised at what he then did to it.

He whipped a piece of tissue paper out of a box within reach, and quickly folded it - once, twice, three times - into a small 'pad' about the size of a narrow playing card. He laid this pad onto the three middle fingers of one hand, and held it in place there with the thumb and little finger of the same hand. He then dabbed the tissue onto his tongue a couple of times to lightly moisten it. Turning the moistened section face down, he reached over and very very lightly dabbed at the blot with the tissue.

It's difficult to describe the actual motion he made. He didn't push down into the paper, but just made a light dab ... and pulling-up motion. He repeated it three ... four ... five times, slightly moving the position of his hand and the tissue each time. We then inspected the sheet. There wasn't a trace of colour left where the blot had been. He had literally pulled the pigment off the surface. I was astonished ... he just smiled.

If the blot is the type resulting from the baren striking the paper into the wood, this technique will not work, but if the blot is one of those caused by the paper just coming lightly into contact with the pigment, it can usually be 'pulled off' successfully.

Note: After this 'One-point' lesson was distributed on the [Baren] forum, the following note was received from Bill Ritchie:

I was buying paper one time, and I had been told by someone, "If you want to know if a paper is sized or unsized, lick it. Yes, lick it with your tongue. If if feels dry, draws the saliva off your tongue, the paper is unsized. If not, if the paper feels slick and unabsorbing, it's sized."

So one day I had a sample book (which I purchased) and I was fingering a piece of van Gelder Zonen etching paper. To test for sizing, I licked it. Sure enough, the paper was unsized.

I kept the sample book stored away and, one day a long time later, was surprised to find the edge of that sheet had a brown spot. I asked someone about it and I included the fact it was unsized, that I knew because I licked it.

This person said, "Your saliva contains acids - you know, digestive acids and enzymes and such. It will cause the paper to 'burn' just the same as cheap papers will turn brown."

So, now, I try not to sneeze on my papers for obvious reasons.

So I guess perhaps I should modify my techique for removing blots - by using clean water instead of my tongue to moisten that piece of tissue ...


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